Infant Botulism

The disease Botulism is caused as a result of a toxin infecting the body, by means of being produced by the bacteria “Clostridium botulinum”. Note that while this is a serious disease, possible causing paralysis and/or death, it is a very rare disease indeed.
The toxins known to cause botulism are some of the most poisonous substances known to man to date.

Is there more than one way of getting this disease?

Yes, to put it simply. There are three ways that you can contract this disease, and these are described below:

  • Botulism from consumption of food – the bacteria causing botulism can thrive in oxygen deficient environments, such as infected canned food, and thus produce the toxin.
  • Botulism from contraction through open wounds – If you have open wounds, the bacteria may enter the wound, and produce the deadly toxin within your body.
  • Infant botulism – This is the most common type of botulism, and it begins after the bacterium enters the baby’s digestive system. This type of botulism takes anywhere from six weeks to six months after initial infection to fully mature the toxin.

What are the symptoms of infant botulism?

It can take up to 35 hours for symptoms of infant botulism to make themselves known, contrasting with up to two weeks in the case of infection from open wounds.

There are several serious symptoms as a result of infant botulism, as follows:

  • Difficulty swallowing, breathing and speaking
  • Muscle weakness, most prominent in the face
  • Nausea
  • Cramps, most prominent in the abdominal region
  • Vomiting and retching
  • Double vision
  • Paralysis

The particular symptoms that most babies will begin to initially show as a result of being infected by botulism are things such as constipation, fatigue, lack of energy, strange movements, and general inability to compose the head properly due to weakness of the muscles controlling the neck etc, and finally paralysis.

How is infant botulism diagnosed?

The doctor or medical professional will initially look for symptoms such as muscle weakness, and will also ask you or any guardian of any foods ingested by the infant recently, or will also query you about any recent injuries sustained.
They might pay particular attention to foods such as honey or corn syrup eaten by the baby. They may then move onto faeces analysis, as well as vomit, which interestingly is also part of the treatment of food infection.

If it happens to be infection through an open wound, the doctor will likely have the infant undergo surgery to remove infected tissues, and apply antitoxins both orally and directly to the wound. The way these antitoxins work is that they attach themselves very much like an adhesive to the toxin produced by the initial bacteria, and prevent them from attaching themselves to any nerves, preventing potential paralysis.
However, it might be likely that because of the special way in which botulism affects infants, the antitoxins may not work for the infection, as it is contained inside the infant’s digestive system.

Remember, it is better to prevent botulism in infants than it is to treat it, so here are some handy tips to keep your children safe:

  • Keep your food properly contained, away from any humid conditions, such as out in the sun, or by a hot wet environment.
  • Try to boil or cook your food sufficiently in order to burn away any potential harmful bacteria.
  • If a can or container is damaged, opened or inflated, do not ingest the contents.
  • Baked potatoes can be dangerous if left at room temperature, so eat while hot otherwise keep them in the fridge, away from bacteria.
  • Avoid substances such as corn syrup or honey for your baby, as even small doses can cause botulism in infants.
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